8.06.2010

Faith in the Present


While at the Shore, I read Randal Balmer's sometimes skeptical, sometimes mocking account of evangelicalism in the US: "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." For me, it's a reminder of how Bible-believing Christianity is perceived by the majority of Americans: at best, quaint and earnest and well-meaning, at worst backwards and deceptive and just plain weird. To believe in the central tenets of the Christian faith - the supreme authority of the Almighty, the depravity of man, reconciliation and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - is to be looked at with either amusement or incredulity or anger or ridicule. (Consider this recent article about singer Katy Perry's religious upbringing, and imagine the typical reader exclaiming, "gosh, her parents speak in tongues!")

In response to being seen as weird or in wanting to distance ourselves from those among us who really are weird, we believers can tend to apologize. "But I voted for Obama just like you!" "But I can have intelligent conversation about health care reform, too!" "But I also care about immigration policy and diversity in the workplace!" In some cases, we edge away not only from a fringe image but also from what is at the core of what we believe. The lordship of Jesus and the notion that hell is a real destination for many people are seriously questioned by significant portions of evangelical America. Positions on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and women in leadership are taken more with political correctness than Biblical basis in mind. It can be unpopular and lonely and countercultural, in other words, to believe in the Bible and in making it the foundation upon which you will live your life and believe your beliefs.

It is typical for people who grow up in the church to fall away in their adult years, and to look back on their childhood faith as something that was appropriate for childhood, but not so relevant or handy in adulthood. It is typical for us Christian parents to respond to this common trajectory by wanting to shield our kids all the more from "the world," whatever we take that concept to mean.

I cannot control what choices my children will make as adults, as it relates to faith. I do know that they will not get much help from the world and from its take on evangelical Christianity. If they listen to the world, they too will sneer at the faith of their childhoods for being out of touch and out of date, not something any rational grown-up would be caught dead assenting to. I can only hope that, with God's help and with a lot of prayer, I can do my best each day to live out a life that is completely captivated by one God and one life purpose, to have a leavening influence on others around me including my kids, and to trust that the purposeful and merciful and intricate God I believe in can take that effort and redeem His story in a world and in a generation in which it is largely mocked, dismissed, and avoided.

The irony of Balmer's book is that its title is incongruous with its contents. Most of the chapters are caricatures familiar to most observers: the faith healer, the repressed Christian college students, the health/wealth/prosperity shillers. The glory of the true believer does not arrest public attention or command time on the evening news. It is found in the morning's quiet moments, in steady and resolute works of justice and mercy, and in faithful proclamation of truth in pulpits and mission fields all around the world.

My eyes have seen true glory, and more awaits. And my prayer is that others, who may share the world's disdain and dismissal of the many permutations of evangelical Christianity in America, may encounter true glory and emerge changed for it, willing to walk and think a certain way regardless of how that way collides with contemporary sentiment.

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